Ten steps further?
From backtrack to fast-forward. Since politicians are never required to stick to their word ~ especially what they say in the run-up to polls ~ Kapil Sibal is smooth enough to make the kind of promises that do not violate the model code of conduct, yet “sell” his party. And most importantly ingratiate himself with the shehzada. Utterly unashamed by the junking of an ordinance his ministry had cleared, he now floats a proposal that would be “ten times” more effective than the Supreme Court&’s order on tainted politicians that had Lalu Prasad, and others, expelled from Parliament. While what the law minister spelled out in an interview to a national news agency “sounds good”, the fact that he has not even discussed his proposals with his ministerial colleagues gives the game away. He appears to be playing to the gallery (theatrical experience kicking in?), or more specifically the man in the Congress party&’s box seat. Undoing the Supreme Court order was “complete nonsense” Rahul Gandhi had declared, so Sibal has decided to recommend debarring from even contesting an election persons charged with a crime that attracts a punishment of seven years imprisonment.
Ideally there should be little cause for quarrel with a move rooted in the theory that prevention is better than cure, but Sibal&’s action is a trifle suspect. The question arises if it is proper for a minister to publicise a “personal” proposal. He claims has sought the view of the Law Commission, personally drafted a Bill, but has yet to present it to the Cabinet ~ let alone secure its approval. So what status can be accorded to the move? Theoretically he can initiate in-house action, open all-party consultation, even introduce a Bill in the winter session, have it referred to the standing committee. Then either pass the Bill in the closing session of the present Lok Sabha, or take recourse to an ordinance before parliamentary polls. Alas, theory and reality are worlds apart: the minister has not officially taken even the first of his “ten steps further.”
Sibal has, however, put himself in a spot. He is not a candidate in the elections to be conducted over the next few weeks, he wears his “ministerial hat” so he is expected to indicate the government&’s thinking. Even when speaking personally, and even in a situation where the Prime Minister&’s views are not taken into consideration by his political subordinates. Should he fail to attain some official forward movement on this cleansing proposals before the 2014 poll he will stand “exposed”, and his party as desiring electoral success at any cost. Maybe the outcome of the ongoing assembly polls will determine the UPA&’s ethical standards.
Hope and despair
The euphoria has dissipated amidst the hope of a possible breakthrough between Iran and Western powers. The fact that a deal was not concluded, as was perhaps widely expected, ought not to overshadow what must still be deemed an achievement in terms of international relations, specifically that Iran and the West made it to the high table, after all. This was doubtless facilitated by the recent change of guard in Tehran, indeed the assumption of power by a more accommodating Hassan Rouhani from the bellicose Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The Geneva round over the weekend has come a cropper in part because Iran has been prepared to go thus far and no further in the context of its nuclear programme. A no less crucial impediment was the strident reservation expressed by France on whether the proposed deal ~ to recast the nuclear programme as a quid pro quo to the relaxation of crippling sanctions ~ would work. Indeed, it would be no exaggeration to suggest that French objections stalled a positive response from the West.
At another remove, the Iranian leadership had to be wary of the sensitivities of the spiritual leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, who still calls the shots. The likes of Rouhani or Ahmadinejad before him have to function within structural constraints. Well may US Secretary of State John Kerry claim that “differences have been narrowed” and “significant progress made in approaches” to the core issue; yet the trend of the intense diplomatic effort does suggest that discord persists over the programme that “can guarantee a peaceful settlement”. Both sides are still far removed from a mutually satisfactory conclusion. A “historic deal” may be easier imagined than concluded though the mutual suspicion and misunderstanding ~ since the Revolution of 1979 ~ may have lessened to a remarkable degree. This is the notable upshot of the Geneva round between Iran and the five Western powers.
It is imperative, therefore, to sustain the momentum of negotiations, one that has definitely received a boost with Rouhani&’s assumption of power and, no less crucially, his telephone conversation with President Obama, indeed the first interaction between US and Iranian leaders in three decades. Significant too must be the domestic pressure for a deal not least because of the economic crisis ~ inflation is running at 40 per cent ~ consequent to the sanctions. Post-Geneva, the two sides may not have to contend with a stalemate; the thorny issues persist, however. The future of the heavy-water reactor, being built at Arak, remains a matter of contention. The other is Iran&’s existing stockpile of highly enriched uranium. Tehran is unlikely to compromise on what it calls its “rights to enrichment”. The Western powers remain sceptical and for cogent reasons just as they have reservations on the relaxation of sanctions.